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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes gets some green fingered licensing tips at Glee.

Last week I travelled up to the NEC in Birmingham again to see Glee – not as I explained to the train conductor the Disney musical but rather the ‘UK’s most valuable garden and outdoor living trade show’.

I have visited the show before, but this year I was a man on a mission as we had a licensee launching a new product range there.

We have worked with a company called Primus which has developed a range of metal garden art featuring Aardman’s Shaun the Sheep. It is the first venture into licensing for them. It resulted from a new business call I made at another trade show – a good testimony to the value of researching shows and walking the aisles.

But I also like to think a good example of ‘brand fit’ and the development of an appropriate product where the licence really makes a difference. This is a busy category and having a well known character with a distinct personality makes a difference.


Primus recognised the potential for it in offering something unique and original in a crowded category. It also invested in the licence beyond just using the licence – it designed a dedicated part of the stand to showcase Shaun and also booked Shaun the Sheep to appear at GLEE.

Having a costume character on site really made a difference and on the first morning alone it received 50 new sales leads which it attributed to the pulling power of Shaun. Not all these were for the Shaun product, but using licensing helped it create a buzz at a trade show and stand out from the crowd. The costume character was a great recruit to the salesforce. I think this is a good example of the ‘value’ of licensing to a business and how licensing can create value beyond the product itself – but of course the product has to be a good fit and well developed and in this case Primus has developed a strong product.

Too many companies buy a licence and think that is job done – a licence, be it a character or brand, can help a company sell and develop new business but they need to leverage it in a proactive way.


I was very impressed by the Royal Horticultural Society commitment to licensing and its licensees. Naturally GLEE is a key show for it and you would expect some involvement from that at the show, but I think it really embraced the opportunity and the focal point for the business. It had a dedicated stand that featured a really strong range of licensed products including licensees which weren’t exhibiting themselves at GLEE and presented the ranges in ‘retail ready’ fashion so that buyers could see how the ranges could work in their shops. It also backed this up with a dedicated licensing brochure that introduced the business, the approach and featured all of the licensees. This was given out to visitors and was a great way of conveying the licensing programme.

From a sales point of view it wasn’t shy in getting across the size of the audience – it has 480 000 members and gets 1.9 million visitors to which coupled with attendance at the RHS’ shows starts to become a ‘big’ market. It also featured the fact that it had won a Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Award this year – underpinning the value of awards to organisations like the RHS. Finally, visitors to the stand got a RHS gift bag with some licensed product samples to take away – a nice touch.

I think this was a great example of proactive management by a licensor which I am sure licensees appreciate. The RHS was also represented on individual licensees stands throughout the show, but having this hub gave it a great platform to engage with retailers and, of course, other partners. A challenge ahead is to develop the brand and designs beyond the core market. I think it is doing this already, but having a solid foundation to develop from is a real advantage. I was actually quite jealous of the RHS team, not least when I realised the offices are located at the beautiful RHS Wisley garden – not a bad place to work!


Licensing also featured in other ways at GLEE – a few noteworthy examples were:

The use of ‘celebrity’ gardeners by seed manufacturers such as Mr Fothergill’s. It was launching a new range of vegetable seeds in conjunction with TV gardener David Domoney. The ‘Get Growing with David Domoney’ range was well presented in a fully branded FSDU coupled with an advice booklet – all set out on Mr Fothergill’s stand in a way retailers could see instantly how it would work in store. Seed companies seem to use ‘celebrity’ gardeners more and more, but in a focused way to help ranges stand out in-store and I guess to deliver more value and margin to a commodity product. TV shows are probably an entry point for a lot of consumers ‘new’ to gardening so it makes sense to feature some of the TV experts, but I also think Mr Fothergill’s has used David Domoney well on a very specific range of products rather than in a more general way.


Gardman has worked with two high profile charities, the Royal British Legion and Marie Curie Cancer, to create ranges of products such as bird feeders and doormats featuring each charities iconic designs – the poppy and yellow daffodil respectively. Gardman has committed to a fundraising target for each charity which it uses as part of the retail sales kit.

My understanding is that Gardman is sticking with just these two ranges at the moment, but it is a good example of a new type of licensing/charity partnership with a product range at its heart. Working with the charities gives Gardman a point of difference and originality creates ‘in-store’ theatre and also appeals to consumers with a ‘do good feel good’ element to product purchase.

But again the partnerships have good quality product at the centre – it would be easy to forget the product in pursuit of a proactive partnership.


GLEE also reminded me that garden centres are much more than that these days, with ranges of products being sold under one roof. This includes greetings cards – Abacus Cards featured licensed ranges from BBC Countryfile, BBC Gardeners’ World and BBC Springwatch. These ranges were all based on photography and they worked well as a collective. Having recognisable programme-led brands gives Abacus a leg up on generic cards and again a good platform to create a visually appealing offer in store.


The diversity of garden centre product offering was hammered home to me by the presence of a range of Emma Bridgewater branded ‘retro’ style radios. Emma Bridgewater’s traditional design palette is a good fit with the garden centre consumer and thinking gifting I can imagine these mini radios doing well. These products were being showcased by a distributor appointed by the licensee, with the licensee recognising that sometimes new sales channels can be found with some forward thinking distribution partnerships.

All in all a very worthwhile visit to another trade show -not least as it gave me chance to add to my growing collection of ‘character’ selfie photos. Apologies to Shaun…

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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